The Tavern

on December 31, 1999 by Tim Cogshell
   Debuting writer/director Walter Foote, the son of playwright/screenwriter Horton Foote ("To Kill a Mockingbird"), is an attorney by trade, but it's clear that he has inherited his father's creative inclination: "The Tavern" has both the humanity and realism of his progenitor's noted work.

   The notion is fairly straightforward: Two lifelong friends trapped in mundane working-class existences attempt to carve out a niche for themselves by risking everything they have, and much that they don't, on a restaurant and bar in lower Manhattan. This is no small undertaking, and Foote illustrates that point well, depicting the business' struggle through boom and bust over the course of a full year. It's gut-wrenching, and one can't help but feel for the hapless pair. It is the film's characters--Ronnie (Cameron Dye) and Dave (Kevin Geer)--that make "The Tavern" interesting. Ronnie is a good-looking, not terribly bright bartender. He's past 40, which is too old to have not yet decided what to do with his life, but he hasn't. Kevin is affable, malleable and kind. His wife, played tautly by comedienne/actress Margaret Cho, is, to say the least, demanding. She is not happy about he prospect of him getting involved in a bar with Ronnie, whom she considers shiftless and dumb; of course, she has about the same opinion of Dave. There are also the sundry friends, family, acquaintances and gangsters types, none of whose interactions really add up to much, which is why the scenarios ring so true.

   The film's plot sometimes wanders aimlessly, and Foote's approach is languid (he's in no hurry to make a point and ultimately doesn't), but it all hangs together well. Ronnie attempts a relationship, something he hasn't felt confident enough to do in a long time. He even attempts to be a father figure to his dead brother's drifting son (Carlo Alban). Though the penalty is high, Kevin experiences the joy of being his own man, even if it is fleeting. On this whole, "The Tavern" is a workaday film about workaday people grasping at happiness as we all do. It resonates.    Starring Cameron Dye, Kevin Geer, Carlo Alban and Margaret Cho. Directed, written and produced by Walter Foote. A Castle Hill Release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 88 min.

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